This statement was read and distributed at the Dicentra Collective’s event on Intimate Violence held at In Other Words Womens’ Books and Resources on 8 January 2009.
The Dicentra Collective is actively seeking to create radical communities of care, and this evening we are applying harm reduction approaches to intimate violence – that is, to sexual assault and domestic violence. Dicentra is seeking to create safer spaces by working towards healing the community from the harm caused by intimate violence.
Dicentra’s Approach to Intimate Violence & Creating Safer Spaces
Dicentra has examined both traditional and radical models that address intimate violence as well as our own experiences with them. We have found in all of them things that were quite troubling as well as inspiring; and created this event – and the one to follow on the twelfth of February – to examine our thoughts and those circulating in our communities more closely.
These conversations began with the construction of our own safer space policy and our use of the term “safer” rather then “safe”, as we understood this as an attempt rather then an absolute. For us the basis of this policy had to be in healing with an understanding of the support needs of survivors and honoring their self-determination. Part of this healing has to be processes of holding those perpetrating acts of intimate violence accountable in a way that provides for their own ability to address these acts and decreases the harm caused to those around them as well as themselves.
Additionally, each member of the collective and the communities that surround us have been impacted by intimate violence, hence our common and diverse experiences have led us to this point. As those with these experiences we want to acknowledge that it can be difficult to discuss intimate violence. Members of Dicentra have observed that too often the voices of survivors are not heard and their process of healing goes unsupported.
We also clearly understand that sexual abuse happens with in a political context. We live in highly oppressive society that privileges some while traumatizing others. These sort of systemic abuses don’t exist in a vacuum. They affect our daily lives, how we relate to each other, and how we take out our frustration and anger. Many of us haven’t learn or are still learning the tools and skills to deal with how this oppression affects us and unfortunately many times make unhealthy or harmful choices as how to deal with it.
We are particular inspired by:
– Projects that are moving away from the question of survivor credibility toward looking at action steps that the survivor wants taken on a community level and projects that move beyond the criminal justice system that continues the harm perpetrated by intimate violence;
– projects that are prioritizing survivor self-determination and autonomy, as well as providing needed techniques of self-care and counseling to survivors;
– initiatives that work with both: those who have and are in the process of surviving intimate violence, and those who have perpetrated such acts;
– the level of interest in Portland and across the planet in developing new approaches and community-wide mechanisms to heal from intimate violence, and the dedication upon the part of many members of our communities to come together to discuss and address experiences that are quite difficult;
– radical approaches to intimate violence that are developing from the voices of queer and trans peoples, people of color, the differently abled and bodied, working class and other oppressed peoples.
We are particularly troubled by:
– Accountability processes that continue to demonize perpetrators as “others” and do not focus on healing the community at large;
– organizations and community spaces that have “safe space policies” but no mechanisms for addressing how to create safer spaces or to address unsafe situations that may arise;
– the crisis model of organizing that reacts to situations as they happen rather then creating better practices and educational activities that are incorporated into larger radical movement work.
We are hopeful for:
– Recent discussions of good consent practices and the possibility of educating our communities around them;
– harm reduction approaches to intimate violence that understand the particular needs, context and experiences of the particular survivor;
– the engagement with those who have perpetrated acts of intimate violence in ways that don’t just hold them accountable, but seeks to understand their particular context and experiences as well;
– creating inclusive and participatory spaces that are not limited to activists and members of a particular counter-culture, and involve the experiences and approaches of many different communities.
Dialogue and Exploration
We are hoping that those attending tonight will be able to draw from these complex and difficult discussions and find some solace as we move ourselves and those around us toward creating radical communities of care and healing from intimate violence. Dicentra certainly does not claim to have “the answers” but hopes that in our discussions – those assembled together tonight and our communities outside these walls – can begin to find and develop new answers and approaches to healing.
The purpose of this event is not to examine best practices, as there are no best practices once an act of intimate violence has occurred. Best practices can only come with initiatives and ways of communicating that seek to create safe and healthy sexual relations in the complex and varied bedrooms we find ourselves in. (This is a subject we will have to pick up at a later point.)
Tonight we will be looking at better practices. That is practices, which in addressing the harm done by intimate violence, seek to improve on previous ones. The harm done to both survivors of intimate violence and the community at large requires initiatives that prioritize survivor autonomy and self-determination while focusing on community-wide healing and education. Additionally, we believe in providing spaces for healing the community and de-isolating peoples’ experiences so that the voices of survivors are heard and acted upon. With this we believe in challenging the idea of perpetrators as individuals and processes that “other-ize” perpetrators. Rather it is the act of aggression and intimate violence that we want to eliminate, as we all have the possibly of being survivors as well as perpetrators.
Such better practices, we believe, should seek to address the complexities of relations and differences in power as they are challenged by: anti-racist, feminist, and working class perspectives; a multitude of genders and bodies; a myriad of sexual practices and sex-positive approaches.
It is this gray area of complex relationships that we are looking to intervene into as we heal our communities from intimate violence, create radical communities of care, and transforming the larger systemic causes of abuse and violence in our communities and society at large.
Our desire for this evening is that through our discussions with those assembled and our communities outside these walls, we can begin to find and develop new answers and approaches to healing and creating support around intimate violence.